Surf rock pioneer Dick Dale has died at the age of 81 years old, according to reports.
Affectionally known by many as “The King of the Surf Guitar,” Dale is credited as the originator of surf-style music. The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Dale’s guitar playing incorporated Middle Eastern music scales and a rapid alternate picking technique derived from tarabaki drumming. He also played a left-handed guitar, but did so without restringing the instrument, which made for a more high-end bite on bass strings and warmer treble tones. He was also one of the first guitarists to use reverb.
Upon moving to Southern California in the mid-1950s, Dale immersed himself in the burgeoning surf culture and played sold-out concerts known as “surfer stomps.” With the release of his debut album, 1962’s Surfers’ Choice, Dale’s brand of surf music earned a national audience. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, where he performed his own take on the traditional Middle Eastern song “Misirlou”. Decades later, Dale’s “Misirlou” found renewed popularity when it appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
Mainstream America’s fascination with surf rock was short lived as it eventually gave way to the British rock invasion of the mid-1960s. However, Dale’s music is widely credited for influencing a host of future rock stars, including The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen, and served as the precursor to genres like heavy metal and punk rock.
Dale also worked closely with Fender and was pivotal in the development of the Fender Stratocaster guitar and high-powered amps, including the first 85-watt transformer.
Unfortunately, Dale experienced a number of health issues throughout his life and was forced to continue touring up until his death in order to cover the cost of medical bills.
His death was first reported by California Rocker and confirmed by The Guardian. Dusty Watson, a former bandmate of Dale, wrote on Facebook, “The legend and king of surf guitar has passed. Condolences to family and friends and all those who were touched by your undeniable presence. Rest In Peace friend.”